Janet Ayer Fairbank was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a family that was keenly interested in civic affairs. Her younger sister Margaret Ayer Barnes grew up to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. Janet attended the University of Chicago, and in 1900 married Kellogg Fairbank, a lawyer with whom she had three children. She was active in social and progressive causes in Chicago, becoming especially prominent in the campaign for women's right to vote. In 1916, she served as the grand marshal of a suffrage parade of 5,000 women in Chicago, the site of that year's Republican National Convention. She was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions from Illinois in 1924 and 1932. She also wrote novels that included The Cortlands of Washington Square (1923), The Smiths (1925). The Lion's Den (1930), and The Bright Land (1932), and short stories collected in the volume Idle Hands (1927).